Why should we be paying more attention to our vocal health?
Vocal health isn’t specific to professional vocalists like singers and actors. Even in individuals who may not rely heavily on their voices from a professional standpoint, the vocal cords can vibrate upwards of hundreds of thousands of times each day! That’s a lot of back-and-forth, so it’s important to keep the vocal mechanism healthy.
In voice-intensive occupations like school teachers, that number is even higher. For people who uses their voices a lot, both personally and professionally, keeping your vocal chords in tip-top shape is crucial.
The good news?
Many of the things we can do to keep our voices in good condition are the very same things that help to keep our minds and bodies healthy in general.
So, wondering how to take care of your voice? Read on for recommendations for the practical lifestyle choices and tools we can use to immediately boost our vocal health.
Do: Stay Hydrated.
Water is incredibly important to the proper functioning and longterm maintenance of the voice. If you’re a teacher, clergy member, little league coach, or anyone else who might use their voice to a greater degree than most, consider investing in a personal steam inhaler. Steam offers a more direct route to the vocal cords than water in liquid form (though that’s really important, too!).
While it may be tempting to cheer on your favorite team under the Friday night lights, the fun shouldn’t result in hoarseness (or, worse yet, a total loss of voice). Pace yourself, support your voice, and try to “call out” instead, as though you’re echoing across a mountain. Avoiding raspy and overproduced “screaming” sounds will help ensure that you’re able to be a fan for life, not just for one season.
Do: Focus on Flexibility.
Literally! Remember that vocal health doesn’t stop inside your throat; it’s a whole-body proposition. Folks often ask me “If there were one thing I could do to improve my voice, what it would be?”
My answer? Yoga — or another physical practice that promotes a connection of flexibility and breath.
Don’t: Shallow Breathe.
It’s truly amazing what pausing throughout the day to take some low, deep breaths can do. We want to avoid clavicular breathing — breathing with a lot of up-and-down shoulder involvement — as much as possible. At the beginning of each day, allot thirty seconds to look in the mirror and take some supported breaths that arise from your abdomen instead of your upper chest. Monitor your shoulders in the mirror to ensure they’re not contributing extra movement to the process.
Do: Make Time to Rest Your Voice.
Interestingly, some recent research suggests new considerations for vocal rest following an acute injury or voice surgery. For everyday maintenance, though, it’s always a good idea to plan for short periods of vocal rest throughout days when you have several long meetings or other circumstances when you’ll be talking a lot. For example, it’s a great idea for teachers to try to use their planning periods to rest their voices as they catch up on work, particularly when those “downtimes” occur later in the school day.
It probably goes without saying, but tobacco is a big no-no when it comes to health of the vocal mechanism (and the rest of our bodies, of course).
Do: Use Lozenges.
Lozenges are great! We recommend Fontus Dry Mouth Lozenges, which were developed by Kailtin Hopkins, a musical theatre performer and head of Texas State University’s musical theatre program. Kaitlin came up with the idea for these lozenges because of the dry mouth symptoms experienced by a family member with Parkinson’s disease, and now they’re used by performers and speakers the world over.
Do: Try a Personal Steam Inhaler.
A personal steam inhaler is a great tool to keep on hand, particularly if you’re a professional voice user. These come in a variety of price ranges, sizes, and hand-held or tabletop options.
Do: Practice Self-Awareness.
The absolute best tool to keep in your self-care toolbox when it comes to the voice is awareness. Get to know what situations make your voice feel particularly tired. Tune into the circumstances that tempt you to yell, scream, or shout, and make plans to stave off that temptation. When do you feel especially tense? That tension is probably also affecting your voice in a big way. By adding awareness to your kit for the day, you’ll be doing your voice a great big favor!
Just like we can’t neglect our health and bodies, we can’t ignore our perfect instrument. Our voices are important and our most powerful tool when it comes to impacting our lives on a daily basis. Therefore, we have to protect our vocal chords so that we can better communicate and speak our truths.
Stay healthy and safe — use your voice, love yourself, and be yourself.